Southern NFC reporter
TAMPA, FL – Is this how Tom Brady’s time in Tampa Bay ended?
The Pirates dominated Monday night, losing 31-14 to the Cowboys in what ended up being the second most lopsided playoff loss of Brady’s 23-year career, and his first-ever loss in eight games against Dallas.
Dak Prescott threw for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth, and the Cowboys had their first red zone interception in Brady’s three seasons with the Boss. The Cowboys, enjoying their first playoff win in four years, advance to play San Francisco Sunday in the divisional round. Prescott’s 143.3 passer rating is the third-best ever for a playoff game with 30+ pass attempts.
The Bucs struggled to an 8-9 record, the worst of any team Brady has started for, but they got the consolation of their division title and home game against the Cowboys, whom they beat 19-3 in Week 1. It was the Bucs’ best game this season, but Monday night was one of their worst, on both sides of the ball.
Brady, 45, was a free agent this spring and now has three options: retire (as he did briefly last year), return to the Bucs and hope for better success or sign with a new team and begin a third chapter in his NFL career. He has said he will take his time before making a decision, having changed direction last year and not finished just 40 days after the decision to stop him. He has had a difficult season on and off the field, with the team struggling in the standings as he has gone through a divorce with his wife, model Gisele Bundchen.
The offensive’s continued struggle this season — averaging 12 fewer points a game than it did a year ago — has put Byron Leftwich’s future as offensive coordinator up in the air, whether Brady returns or not. Head coach Todd Bowles is expected to return in 2023, when the Bucs are still winning back-to-back league titles for the first time in franchise history, and the Glazers have never fired a coach after just one season.
Dallas set a very strong tone in the first half, taking an 18-0 lead on three long touchdown drives, covering 80, 80, and 91 yards. About the only thing going wrong on the Cowboys was kicker Brett Maher, who missed the three extra points, this after going 50-for-53 in the regular season. Maher will miss an extra fourth point in the third quarter, so his future with the team is in jeopardy.
The two teams opened the game with four three-pointers, and then Dallas found its rhythm, as Prescott threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to finish tight Dalton Schultz. The Bucs answered with a long run, but on second-and-goal from the Dallas 5, Brady threw a pass to the back of the end zone that was intercepted by Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse—Brady’s first red zone in three full seasons with the Bucs.
The Cowboys answered with another 80-yard drive-seek on fourth-and-goal on the 1. Dallas called a bootleg to Prescott, who ran untouched for an easy score. They added another score just before halftime, and Prescott again hit Schultz on an 11-yard touchdown run. Dallas outscored the Bucs 246-120 at halftime.
Tampa Bay started the game optimistically, bringing back injured players on both sides of the ball to make them as healthy as they’ve been all season. Center Ryan Jensen, who has been out since July with a knee injury, returned and made his first appearance of the season, but his presence could not rouse an even offense, earning a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.
Brady totaled 125 yards on 33 passes before the offense found itself late in the third quarter. Brady went 7-for-9 for 92 yards on the drive, and hit Julio Jones for a 30-yard touchdown as the third quarter ended. Another Dallas touchdown in the fourth quarter lined the margin to 31-6 before Brady and Bucks drove down the field for a late touchdown drive. This is the second most lopsided playoff loss of Brady’s career – the Patriots lost to the Ravens by 19, 33-14, in 2009.
Bucs wide receiver Russell Gage had to be carted off the field after taking a high pitch that bent his neck in the final minutes.
Brady is the biggest question mark, but who might play his last game in a Bucs uniform? Tampa Bay has more than 20 free agents, including linebacker and team captain Lafonte David, and may have to make additional cuts due to salary cap issues.
Greg Aumann is FOX Sports’ NFC South correspondent, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, and Saints. He’s in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full time, after spending time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @employee.
Top stories from FOX Sports:
Get more from the National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more